Oct 19, 2014

Washington Post's Bleak Take On Social Security Hearings

     The Washington Post has an article on Social Security's huge backlog of disability hearings. Here are a couple of excerpts to give an idea of the article's bleak, despairing tone:
In this case, the [disability hearing] system became, in effect, too big to fix: Reforms were hugely expensive and so logistically complicated that they often stalled, unfinished. What’s left now is an office that costs taxpayers billions and still forces applicants to wait more than a year — often, without a paycheck — before delivering an answer about their benefits. ... 
“I really wonder if what we’re doing is effective at all. If it helps at all,” [Social Security Administrative a Law Judge] Pennock said, after a day of hearing cases and trying to reduce her share of the backlog. “If, based on the amount of evidence we get, my decision is any better than flipping a coin.”
     A reader could only come to the conclusion that not only is the Social Security disability hearing process broken but that it is unfixable. The only solution would be to abolish Social Security hearings and maybe to abolish Social Security disability benefits themselves. It is the right wing view of government as hopeless, something to be largely eliminated since it can't be reformed. 
     Disability determination is a messy business but many worthwhile things in life are messy, including mankind itself. Disability benefits are an essential lifeline for millions. Without hearings Sovial Security disability would lack legitimacy. If the hearings were abolished, they would have to be restarted almost immediately. There would be too many horrible injustices that couldn't be righted.                      
     There is a simple solution for Social Security's hearing backlog -- more resources. That's been done before. We know it works. It was working until tea party Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010. Everything else has been tried without success. 


Anonymous said...

More resources? Would just feed a system out of control.

More SSA ALJs than any other Judge grouping in the government.

The growth in disability cannot be explained by baby boomers - prior much lesser disabled people qualified.......and now with a billion dollar industry with lawyers and others representing people for profit and judges who have little or no experience in evaluating evidence - many with their only idea of how things should be done.

the de novo review should be eliminated - and the appeal should be a true appeal on matters of law only - not some ALJ and professional rep's undercutting of the actual law.

Anonymous said...

Hearings have lacked legitimacy evident through news reported fraud.

Now in a slow economy,i presume,ALJS are trying to legitimize the program by either heavily denying or amending onset dates.

I agree with ALJ pennock statement“I really wonder if what we’re doing is effective at all. If it helps at all,If, based on the amount of evidence we get, my decision is any better than flipping a coin".

My personal opinion is unless a person has had a recent severe onset of a medical condition,only the earliest,contiuing history of medical difficulty is an indicator of a claimants credibility .

In some situations,government would do better to sponsor or employ people with disabilities thusly reducing benefit payout.

Anonymous said...

This is 12:43 pm october 19,2014.

By earliest history i mean childhood through adulthood medical history.

Anonymous said...

@12:30 PM

What do you mean by limiting appeals to true matters of law? The claimants who file for disability are generally unaware of the technical aspects of applying for disability. Should we start forcing applicants to make their legal arguments for each of the 5 steps of a disability case from the initial application? If so, doesn't that require lawyers to help from the first step?

Anonymous said...

"Should we start forcing applicants to make their legal arguments for each of the 5 steps of a disability case from the initial application?"

In other words, should claimants/litigants have to present evidence to satisfy all elements of their legal claims from the time they initially file?

Yes, yes they should. Just like with any other legal claim. The burden is on the claimant. SSA (through the regs and through internal policy) provides a great deal of assistance to claimants, but at the end of the day it's their burden to satisfy. That's the way the law works, sorry. So yeah, to navigate the complicated legal channels involved, SS claimants should do what most other reasonable litigants do with any other legal claim and hire an attorney from the outset.

Anonymous said...

Except they aren't litigants, they are applicants in a non-adversarial system.


Anonymous said...

So Charles and many of you other reps can gripe about every thing SSA does wrong (many are big, but a fair number are pretty trivial) based on its obligations under the regs, etc., but expecting your clients and other claimants to meet their basic burden under those same regs, etc., is absurd? Shouldn't really count because the process is nonadversarial (you realize the facts that the process is nonadversarial and that SSA helps so much along the way kinda serves to bolster the notion that claimant's should present sufficient evidence to support their claims, right?)?

Got it.

Anonymous said...

The problem with SSA disability hearings is that there is too much fraud...dishonest claimants, dishonest doctors, and dishonest attorneys who will lie, exaggerate and deceive to get benefits for themselves, their patients, and their clients.

Anonymous said...

Better call Hall!

Anonymous said...

Actually 4:25 PM, October 20, 2014,
I believe the problem with disability hearings are that ALJS are largely UNABLE to discern between the claimants you mention and claimants that have legitimate work hindering conditions.


12:43 PM, October 19, 2014

Anonymous said...

The burden of proof in SSA claims is "preponderance of the evidence" which requires only 50.5% weight on the side of disability. ALJs today require much more evidence, more like "clear and convincing" evidence. That is in violation of the law. As for the initial and recon decisions, State Agencies often ignore medical evidence as well as treating physician opinions, violating the law. State Agencies' incentive is to move cases by denying them, since allowances are subject to quality review and that takes time. Meantime, people's lives are ruined waiting for the law to be followed.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:35 PM, October 20, 2014
Here here! Hear hear! (?)
Anyone who thinks DDS follows the rules is sorely mistaken. Most ALJ's realize this.


Anonymous said...

Aljs making $165K to evaluate disability insurance claims is a ludicrous drain on the system. They can't even write their own decisions! And then hundreds of additional lawyers at the Appeals Council who make up to $165K to review ALJ decisions - it just seems like a blatant scam on the American taxpayer. SSA's government lawyers appear to be the main beneficiaries of the disability appeals process.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 5:47 PM, October 21, 2014.

And if a person think about it,that's $12500-13750 a month.

Each month of an alj and aajs salary are more than many benefiaries yearly income.

With a program running out of money,does their salary seem logical? Sure attornies are needed to write decisions but not ALJS.

Anonymous said...

@10:25 and 2:50:

The system needs to be non-adversarial. It's designed to help people.

You don't seem to get it about people with disabilities. Many claimants have serious impairments that make it impossible for them to understand the disability claim requirements and properly document their own claims. In the system you advocate for, many legitimately disabled claimants would lose due, ironically, to the very disabilities that make them unable to work. Do you consider these people disposable, or should we design the system to help them? If the latter, then SSA adjudicatorsm, ALJs, and reps are needed to help them understand and document their claims.

One thing that made me laugh reading the article was how many people said things that are just plain wrong, or which greatly mischaracterize the situation. An ALJ who equates his method of deciding cases to flipping coins? A professor who apparently never tried a SSD case in front of an ALJ, claiming to somehow mysteriously "know" that all the ALJ's don't know what they are doing? Can we borrow your magic 8 ball Prof? It would be funny if not for the fact that such ridiculous statements are prone to mislead people into making dumb policy decisions.

Ronald Swanson said...

Abolishing social security disability benefits would be a horrible thing to do. So many people rely heavily on these benefits and it would be such a crippling blow to our economy to completely do away with the benefits completely. Sure the hearings cost us millions of dollars every year, but with the prospect of having millions of people who are relying on these benefits kicked to the street with no hope would be detrimental. There has to be some solution to speeding up these hearings, while giving benefits to everyone who needs them fairly. http://www.russelljgoldsmith.com/massachusetts-social-security-disability-claims.html